Fringeworthy 10th Anniversary Edition
Tri Tac Systems, 1992
What you get/need
Fringeworthy 10th Anniversary Edition $18.95?
Concept - 5
In Fringeworthy, humanity has discovered the remnants of a dimension-traveling alien race on Earth...specifically, the gates they used to travel between the alternate dimensions. But only one in every hundred thousand humans has some unknown quality that makes the gates work for them, so off they go. Guess what? The PCs are a few of those one-in-every-hundred-thousand. Wouldn't be much of a game otherwise, would it? Unfortunately, it's not much of a game anyway. Still, the setting concept is sound.
Character Creation - 2
What is it with random attribute rolls? This sort of thing is fine for games like AD&D and Palladium, where the object is to roll as many dice as possible, and Rolemaster, where the object is to roll as many dice as possible and look things up on as many convoluted charts as possible, but other than that, I had thought that random attribute rolls were a thing of the past. And these are irritating attribute rolls: 4d6-4. Even more irritatingly, it is possible to get an attribute of 0. In addition to the usual mental anguish caused by rolling a low attribute, this will upset GMs when they notice that most of the penalty/bonus charts begin at 1, rather than 0.
Still, this would be tolerable, if the attributes themselves weren't so poorly thought out. As far as I can tell, there are at least 15 (!) of them. Ridiculous, that a game that openly claims to be concise and easy to play would have more attributes than even Rolemaster, including four separate Agility-type attributes: Dexterity, Agility, Accuracy, and Dodge. (BTW, Strength has as much an effect on someone's ability to Dodge as actual Agility.) Needless to say, this could have been condensed greatly.
And this is just the attribute part. It gets worse from here. Those of you who have been to the Caravan of Dreams web site have probably read Michael Richter's intensely harsh review of FTL:2448 (which is also made by Tri Tac Systems) and have probably gotten the (correct) idea that my review of Fringeworthy will not be much different. Unlike him, however, I actually managed to figure out how a character's skills are generated.
They're random. Yes, the player chooses which (and how many) skills they start out with based on their Intelligence, and the skills' beginning levels are randomly determined, with none of them starting high enough to do anything impressive. Makes me wonder why I bothered. Also, the characters can only start with certain skills, depending on which of the five education types they have. Again, this is too complicated for the beginning player and GMs who "hate a serious rule system". Sure, they can just ignore the whole education thing if they don't like it, but the author never bothers to mention it's optional, does he? You'd be surprised how many inexperienced GMs don't think to ignore/change sections of the rules that bother them.
Fortunately, character creation ends there, except for the half-dozen or so secondary-type attributes that must be calculated. Then, after all the calculations, a dozen rolled attributes, and 6-19+ rolled skills, you're ready to begin. Oh, and the game specifically discourages anything other than rolling once for each attribute and sticking with it. No best of three rolls or pairing high rolls with the attributes you want the most or any other such non-sense. "Role Playing" they call it. Blah.
Playability - 1
After character creation, we get to utilize a game engine that is, in a nutshell, nightmarish. Actually, on its own, the general task resolution isn't too horrible (though not without its own holes), if you don't count the experience rules and the combat/damage system. Tasks are done by calculating the base chance of success (5% for every skill point) and adding a % modifier based on the difficulty level of the task, plus modifiers for any number of other impairments. That is, if you can make sense of the difficulty levels. Yes, they give you the levels and modifiers but don't bother to give you any examples of tasks or descriptions for them. While this isn't too big a deal for an experienced GM, it certainly goes against the system's stated premise of being concise, easy to play, and less time-consuming. How can any system claim this and then leave the GM guessing at the difficulty levels?
And then there's the ridiculous experience point/level system, which appears to be a mediocre version of Palladium's own experience system. The usual complaint about level systems stands here: characters can't improve their skills by training, only by adventuring. Fine--not realistic, but who cares? Unfortunately, the list of experience awards is nothing short of ridiculous. 250 points for "Outwitting a Bureaucracy"? Does this count cheating on income taxes? What about getting a driver's license? What about just walking out of a government building when the service line gets too long? Many of us would be demi- gods by now. Even worse, most of the suggested experience awards overlap-- "No Use Of Violence," "No Casualties," and "Dealing Peacefully With Others." Also, "Good Group Organization," "Outwitting a Superior Force" (or Monstrous Creatures), "Outstanding Planning," and "Outstanding Reasoning, Insight." It goes on from there. Of course, the GM could simply make up their own experience awards, but that's time-consuming, isn't it? And then there's the actual application of the experience points. My favorite part is where it says "After 60,000 points, your character gains Experience about every 15 missions he or she survives." Well, great...now, not only do I have to gain 40,000 more points a level, which typically takes 15-20 missions anyway, but now I only gain experience at 1/15 the normal rate.
That's at least 225 missions, for those of you who are doing the math. If I were to play a full Fringeworthy game each day, it would still take me the better part of a year to gain one measly level. We can only hope that either I've read this wrong, or this isn't REALLY what the designers had in mind.
And then there's the combat system. I'm not even going to try to describe it--you won't believe me. To make a long story short, it makes even Rolemaster seem fast and simple by comparison. Those who want the details anyway are hereby referred to Michael Richter's review of FTL:2448.
In summary, this system is misbegotten all the way. Whether in or out of combat, the players and GM will be constantly flipping to different sections of the book just to find the information they need to do something. When they're not doing that, it'll be because they're still trying to figure it out in the first place. Very bad for a game that has supposedly undergone ten years of playtesting.
Writing - 1
Where the game engine is a nightmare of playability, the book's writing is a nightmare of style and organization. The sections of the book are presented in no particular order, and sections concerning game mechanics are freely interrupted by information about the setting. There is a good enough index, but the book's information is so poorly organized that the index and page numbers aren't much help anyway. The writing itself could have been done much better. Not only are there the usual typos, but the examples, stories, and quotes provided (and, in many cases, the main text itself) are all either in bad need of rewriting or blandly done, and in both cases do little to bring the setting to life. That, and many of the names give the game an inappropriate air of cartoonish silliness, such as "Schmert" and "Yang the Great and Merciful Parking Regulator." Even the disclaimer will make some people wince. UFO Brotherhoods, indeed.
Reading through Fringeworthy is an unnerving and depressing experience, not because it is so appallingly bad (though that certainly comes into it), but because you get the feeling that with better writing, better editing, and better implementation, this game really could have been something. The setting itself has a few interesting ideas--it only lacks a good follow-through. As such, those who insist on playing Fringeworthy would be best served by ditching the whole Tri Tac system and converting the setting to a universal system. I would suggest FUDGE or CORPS.
Highs - the local used bookstore probably has a copy
Lows - you'll take a loss selling it back
Final Call - the zenith of game design mediocrity